A folk singer-songwriter opening for a black metal band like Deafheaven might seem like an odd match — that is, unless you’ve heard Emma Ruth Rundle’s particularly desolate brand of folk. There’s an overwhelming darkness to Rundle’s songwriting, a crushing existential dread embodied both by her lyrics and the music’s punishing arrangements.
Marked for Death, Rundle’s third solo LP, was released last year and features some of her most affecting work. Whereas 2014’s Some Heavy Ocean featured a spacious, reverb-heavy sound — and a few reveries of transcendent beauty that provided brief respite from the darkness — Marked for Death is unrelentingly claustrophobic. It’s reflective of the space in which it was written: an isolated cabin 90 minutes outside of Los Angeles where Rundle struggled with substance abuse and “hit a point where I started to go emotionally numb,” she told The Independent. “It was a pretty bleak situation!”
Recently, Rundle spoke with Weld via email about the recording of Marked for Death, and the struggle of having to relive that dark stretch of her live via music.
Weld: Before we get into the lyrics of the album, I’m very curious about the production side of it. This album feels very claustrophobic. Was that a sound you set out to capture?
Emma Ruth Rundle: I set out to capture the songs as best I could in the studio. The production and arrangements are different. The heavier guitars and full drum kit are probably large factors in making the music sound the way you’re describing it.
Weld: This is the first record on which you used a full drum kit. What did that add to the sound you were trying to create?
Rundle: The drum kit added a heavy quality to the music, and I wanted that extra force on Marked For Death, though I did struggle with making the commitment, as I knew it might make touring difficult, and I was worried people might be disappointed when I play without the band. Having toured both ways now, I think they are equally powerful but different.
Weld: You’re opening for Deafheaven, so it seems appropriate to recycle this question I asked George Clarke last time they were in Birmingham: This is a dark, dark, album to tour behind and relive onstage every night. Is this material difficult for you to revisit?
Rundle: Yes. At times. Especially when I perform without a band. This tour is with a full band, and I’m able to lose myself in the playing and less in the raw emotion of it. Up until now I’ve always played alone, and it’s been emotionally brutal.
Weld: Lyrically, this album is obviously focused largely on death — which, as you’ve said before, isn’t something that our culture exactly likes to discuss. It’s a huge topic — did reflecting on it through such a personal lens as this album give you any new insights or revelations to your own personal philosophy? It seems like the writing process would have to be transformative, in a way.
Rundle: The album is about being broken. A broken person. Death by design but also of natural causes. “Real Big Sky” was the song that I am most attached to in dealing with these transformative and transcendent philosophies. Many of the other songs are about lowering one’s self via self destruction. I really felt that after writing this record I was free from a lot of darkness; however, touring on the material had made it hard to move on.
Emma Ruth Rundle will open for Deafheaven at Saturn on Monday, March 6. Black Hole Kids will also open. Doors for the show open at 7 p.m.; the show begins at 8 p.m. For more information, visit saturnbirmingham.com.